South African Traditional shirts are just as versatile as the cultural and creative heritage of the various groups that make up South Africa, and they are just as stylish and trendy as any mainstream fashion wear. Despite the infusion of western fashion trends, South African stylists have found a way to create amazing men’s shirts with our unique traditional South African fabric. And these top 25 South African traditional shirts for men are here to prove it.
Trending Traditional Shirt Styles for Men in South Africa
We will not just be telling you about these shirts; we will explore their origin, the best accessories to pair them with, and then some help on what style will best work for your body structure. These top 25 South African traditional shirts for men will leave you wanting to update your wardrobe as they are elegant, stylish, and very traditional.
1. Madiba Shirt
First on our list of South African traditional shirts for men is the Madiba Shirt, and we all know and love the Madiba Shirt, South Africa’s global brand. “Invented” and popularised by President Nelson Mandela, the Madiba shirt has grown to become a must-have for men trying to make a bold statement in the fashion scene.
The Madiba shirt, with its batik silk and bright and colorful print, gives you that executive look and, of course, confident swag. This style is best worn with your favorite solid-colored pants and minimal accessories for that presidential look.
2. Quarter Sleeve Madiba Shirt
Although traditionally, the Madiba shirt is long-sleeved, quarter sleeves work. And you can add some solid colors to the collar, cuffs, and pockets for some versatility. Interestingly, the Madiba shirt has some similarities to men’s vintage shirts. The only difference is that vintage shirts are more loosely fitted.
Also, the Madiba shirt is worn with the button all done up for a more formal appearance. Tall men may choose to wear the Madiba shirt with a hat or a kofia in a contrasting color to break up their height.
3. Madiba Inspired Short Sleeve Shirt
If you love Madiba shirts, but you aren’t a fan of long sleeve shirts, no worries, this style’s got you covered. While still maintaining the popular Madiba shirt motif, this style gives you some breathing space with its short sleeves.
These sleeves are best for arms on the heavier side; it gives a more balanced look compared to your other body parts, making your arm look slimmer. Also, quarter sleeves are known to make people look taller too.
4. Green Short Sleeve Shweshwe Shirt
Shweshwe is one of the South African popular traditional clothing materials made from cotton or linen. Originally, the indigo-colored cloth was presented to King Moshoeshoe I by French Missionaries in the early 1840s and thus the present name.
However, different regions have their unique name for it; the Zulus often refer to it as isishweshwe, Sotho-speaking people refer to it as seshweshwe, and Xhosa-speaking people, ujamani. Another alternative account is that the name derives from the onomatopoeic swishy sound the fabric makes when a wearer is on the move.
Shweshwe is known for its versatile colors and intricate geometric patterns, and for men, it can be sewn into brightly colored, loose-fitting shirts. A simple shweshwe shirt can never go wrong, just like this simple green patterned short sleeve shweshwe shirt. A darker shade is used for the collar sleeves to create seamless contrast. You can pair it with plain trousers and a fine leather or chain wristwatch for a casual and relaxed look.
5. White Long Sleeve Shirt with Shweshwe Design
Your white outfit can be made exceptional with the incorporation of shweshwe; in the look, the shweshwe is used to decorate the frontal, sleeves, and hems of the long-sleeved shirt. This neat look is perfect for semi-formal occasions for a casual yet smart look. This design, along with its long sleeves, goes beautifully with men with rectangular torsos, making this style perfect for such body structure.
6. Blue Shweshwe Shirt and Short
This blue shweshwe shirt and shorts are a match made in heaven. Men with tall and slender frames would enjoy rocking this shweshwe outfit; it contours the body without hugging too tight, accentuating the sinewy body features. However, if you are super tall and would rather not draw attention to your height, go for trousers instead.
Your choice of color tone matters a lot for this style; grey, earth tone, burgundy, pink, and pastel blue are best for dark skin men, while blue, green, pink, purple, and blue work well for light skin tone. Of course, you can accessorize with a wristwatch or men’s bracelet.
7. White Short Sleeve Shirt Designed with Nwenda Prints
The Nwenda fabric is part of Venda’s traditional attire, and its vibrant and varied traditional color combinations mean there is so much you can do with it. Traditionally, the Nwenda fabric is worn around the waist and across one arm or thrown around the shoulders.
Nowadays, a simple solid shirt can be made unique with a touch of Nwenda print, like this simple short-sleeved shirt, with a simple Nwenda print to grace the front. This turns an otherwise casual look into something more eye-catching.
This look can be worn with little or no accessory, and this design is best for tall and skinny men; having a horizontal stripe across the chest area helps broaden your shoulders, giving the illusion of a strong physique.
8. White Short Sleeve Shirt with Extra Nwenda Details
You can turn up the level of Nwenda prints you adorn your white shirts with to give you that extra vibe. The right upper front, cuffs, placket, and pocket are tastefully designed with the Nwenda print. In fact, Nwenda fabric is best paired with solid colors, especially for men’s wear. Traditionally, Venda men wear attires from animal skin; goat, klipspringer, or duiker, which is in contrast to the modern Nwenda fabric with its multi-colored striped prints.
So while the Nwenda pattern may work as a whole for dresses, they are best paired with solid colors for men’s wear. Short men should generally avoid horizontal stripes, and tall men avoid vertical stripes. Therefore, the above style is best for short men as the vertical Nwenda detail on the placket elongates the frame.
9. Blue Mid Sleeve Shirt with Simple Nwenda Detail
This blue mid sleeve shirt with simple Nwenda detail is another casual look that adds a touch of personality to the wearer. The Nwenda print is off to the side and doesn’t take up attention; it adds color to an otherwise plain look, giving it a facelift. Also, mid sleeves designs are great for men with heavier arms, and this look sits well on the body without hugging too tight, so this style is perfect for men with a bit of extra weight.
10. Black Long Sleeve Shirt with Nwenda Inspired Design
Nwenda prints look just as eye-catching in long sleeve shirts as well. This black long sleeve shirt with the bold Nwenda design on the frontal part of the shirt is such a modern design. The look is perfect for tall slim men; it is slim and fitted to hug the shoulders, and it has a good length.
There are no vertical stripes, and the Nwenda design on the frontal does an excellent job of breaking up the wearer’s height. You will look glamorous in this shirt when you accessorize it with a simple watch, and you are good to go.
11. Ingcawa Inspired Cape shirt
A modernized version of the Xhosa traditional blanket, the Ingcawa, which is normally draped across the shoulders. The ingcawa with fringed edges is usually used to mark significant traditional ceremonies like initiations and burials. However, they can be used as a cape with selvage edges, just as in the picture. Here it is paired with a long-sleeve white shirt and a matching brooch. This simple Xhosa-inspired cape look is a style for all body types. Who doesn’t look good in a white shirt? Absolutely no one, and you can never be an exception to this.
12. White Shirt Paired with Umblaselo
The umblaselo aren’t sewn as shirts for men, but they are an intricate part of the Zulu traditional attires. They originated from old clothing that was patched over to elongate the garment’s life but has since evolved to become traditional Zulu men’s outfit worn to celebrations and events. Fondly known as the Zulu vest, umblaselo are carton brown in color with patches and designs in red, blue, and yellow, and sometimes with leopard prints.
The vest is usually worn over a shirt, like a plain white shirt, as seen here. The umqhele, the Zulu headband, pairs perfectly with this style. Umblaselo paired with a loose shirt is a great fit for men on the heavy side. Men in tiptop shape may wear a tight-fitting shirt or not wear a shirt. No matter their choice, they are sure to look good in this unique White Shirt Paired with Umblaselo.
13. Black Turtleneck Paired with Umblaselo
Our popular Zulu vest pairs well with black as well. Check out this body-hugging black turtleneck top. This is perfect for showing off your biceps for men who hit the gym on a norm. This is a laid-back look that doesn’t discriminate when it comes to the body structure; adjust to the appropriate length depending on your height.
Notice the man in the middle; unlike the traditional umblaselo vest worn over a shirt, his shirt is a long-sleeved umblaselo shirt. This style is perfect for visibly pot-bellied men; instead of wearing an umblaselo vest over a tight-fitting shirt that would definitely draw attention to the belly, this style covers the belly, leaving your comrades none the wiser.
14. Trendy Black Umblaselo Inspired Vest
Umblaselo does not have to be brown or worn over a shirt. This trendy black umblaselo-inspired vest says it all. This is a more westernized version of the traditional umblaselo South African shirt for men; the traditional red and yellow patches are incorporated beautifully, and a belt and some extra length are added on the side, with big flattened pockets.
This umblaselo-inspired vest has a zipper, so you can comfortably wear the vest without a shirt underneath. So if you want to show off your biceps, body art on your arms or a slimmer waistline that can be accentuated by the belt, this trendy umblaselo traditional South African shirt for men is definitely for you. You will stand out bold wherever you wear this outfit to.
15. White Umbhaco shirt
The Umbhaco is a traditional Xhosa fabric made from durable cotton, which is characterized by the striped design of the traditional South African men’s shirt against a plain background. Traditionally Xhosa men wear umbhaco as wraparound skirts that run down from the waist to the feet and with another thrown over one shoulder.
These days, umbhaco can be sewn into shirts and dresses of varied styles. The most common color pattern for umbhaco is black stripes on a white background, and this elegant white shirt uses this color pattern to design its hems and sleeves. The neck design imitates the pattern of an Ithumbu, with the added beads at the end for the culture.
A black and white Idayimani headband completes this Xhosa traditional look. As always, the mid sleeves make this style suitable for men with heavier arms who might want to draw attention away from the arms and create a more balanced effect.
16. Black Umbhaco Shirt
Black is uniquely beautiful, and an umbhaco with a black background with white stripes works well; long-sleeved with white stripes on the neck, sleeves, and hems, this design is simple and laid-back. An Idayimani headband and a short necklace can accessorize this outfit.
However, you should note that tall and slim men are advised to avoid solid colors like black as they tend to thin you out even more. In such a case, a lighter color would do, and also wearing a different color of shirt and trousers would help break the length of your appearance. It is also recommended you wear a piece of sneakers whose color will contrast and project the color of your shirt and trousers.
17. Umbhaco Inspired Shirt Design
This umbhaco-inspired shirt is one of the South African traditional shirts for men with a simple design yet brilliant in every sense of the word. The black, gold and white color combination goes well together, and the Y-neckline is perfect for a relaxed look.
In this case, the stripes are placed vertically across the frontal of the shirt, making this design perfect for short men but unfortunately a no-no for tall men. The quarter-length sleeves again are for men with heavier arms. This style can be paired with an Idayimani and Uphalaza tie necklace.
18. Umbhaco Inspired Long Sleeve Tunic
This tunic takes inspiration from the traditional umbhaco attire for men. The design on the neckline follows the pattern of a traditional South African neckpiece and is also replicated on the sleeves. This traditional South African shirt style doesn’t need many accessories to pull off. It is already quite regal and is perfect for men who are tall and bulky as well. Of course, you can vary the length of this style to suit your desired taste.
19. Blue Ingwe Shirt
Ingwe means leopard, as we know, so ingwe shirts are shirts made from leopard prints. Leopards’ skins symbolize pride and royalty among the Zulus and other South African tribal groups and are typically worn by royalty.
This has since changed, and now leopard prints have replaced leopard skins, and of course, it is worn by all. Ideally, the leopard print consists of a pale yellowish to a dark golden foreground with dark spots grouped in rosettes.
The traditional Ingwe can sometimes be paired with an umblaselo. However, you might find this color too commonplace. Why not try out this blue ingwe shirt? It will definitely make you stand out. This casual look goes well with a pair of jeans and one or two traditional bracelets.
20. Red Short Sleeve Seswati Inspired Shirt
The Swazi people can be found in the Mpumalanga province of South Africa, and they are known for the Emahiya Traditional Attire. Traditionally it consists of two pieces; the top part, umhelwane, which is a large fabric, is tied in a knot on the left shoulder, while the other piece, lihiya, is wrapped around the waist. Red, blue, yellow, and brown are some of the beautiful matching and popular color palettes of the Emahiya.
It can be sewn into dresses and shirts instead of the traditional way of wearing the attire. The red short-sleeved seswati-inspired shirt is perfect for men on the heavier side; the quarter sleeves draw attention away from the arms, and the shirt isn’t tightly fitted. This style goes well with black trousers and golden wristwatches.
21. Blue Long Sleeve Seswati Inspired Shirt
Seswati-inspired long shirts look just as elegant as their short sleeve styles. Although the material for this blue long sleeve shirt isn’t 100% Emahiya, the linen material of the overall wear incorporates well with the blue Emahiya on the frontal. Emahiya can therefore be combined with other materials for amazing results.
As always, long sleeves are the go-to style for tall men, so this is a perfect style for such body structure. This style can be worn without the outer coat, and a traditional necklace and bracelet would go well with this look. The good thing about the shirt is that it can also be worn even with shorts for an evening stroll, shopping, or spending time on the beach.
22. Ndebele Traditional Shirt
Ndebele Print, also known as Nguni print, is inspired by the colors and patterns of the Ndebele Art. These bold colored and strong geometric murals with thick black lines were some of the earliest African art forms, and they were used to adorn their homesteads. Traditionally, men do not wear bright colors, and women are the ones that wear bright-colored blankets and beads.
However, these days both men and women do wear the “Ndebele Print,” which can be sewn in beautiful dresses and shirts. These two shirt ideas shown above are for casual and ceremonial wear. The casual wear has the “Ndebele Print” on the pocket and hem, while the ceremonial wear has the “Ndebele Print” on the chest and sleeves.
The headband, bracelet, and neckpiece are optional, depending on the occasion. While the design of the casual wear will be perfect for a short frame, the elaborate design of the ceremonial wear would go well for a tall frame as the “Ndebele Print” will help break up any perceived height.
23. Ndebele Inspired Top
Here, the Ndebele distinct pattern is used for a long-sleeved shirt. This look is trendy and pairs with a pair of plain trousers or jeans. Shorts would do as well. This style needs no accessory as it is already colorful on its own. This not too tight nor too loose style will work for most body structures; all you need is the right bottom to pair it with.
24. Tsonga Traditional Shirt
The Tsonga fabric is known for its multi-colored and flowery patterns that may seem more inclined for females. However, they make good material for traditional men’s shirts. This pink Tsonga shirt is proof of how to pull this off.
This pink long-sleeved shirt with a beautiful flowery frontal design might be just what you need to pull off that white trousers or shorts that have been gathering dust in your wardrobe. As shown in the picture, it is one of the South African traditional shirts for men that are used for marriages. The pink color on the shirt will always blend with the bride’s attire.
25. Black and Yellow Tonga Shirt
The Black and Yello Tonga shirt is last on our list of South African traditional shirts for men but by no means the least. The shirt showcases another brilliant incorporation of a Tsonga yellow fabric with a long sleeve black shirt. The yellow is minimized to the upper frontal and sleeves, creating a balanced blend with the black solid color.
This is a smart yet eye-catching look, and you don’t need to accessorize this style. For tall men who would naturally avoid monochromatic colors, this design is a way around that problem. This is also one of the South African traditional shirts for men that look splendid on dark-skinned men.